Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 15: The Orient > Chapter 1: Meetings of East and West

Meetings of East and West


General interest

1
It is sometimes a lovely experience to be on a ship that is slowly creeping towards harbour in the Near or Far East at about the hour of dawn. The sea is quiet and clear and flat, its colouring a delicate pastel aquamarine, and gulls circle around hungrily and hopefully.

2
He who wanders into an Oriental temple and moves about its dusky corridors and greasy shrines, who gazes at its grotesque stone idols illuminated by many little oil lamps, no less than he who sees golden or silver idols brought out to the rattle of drums and the piping of clarionets into the glaring light of day and carried upon painted carriages or within palanquins that rest on long-beamed stretchers, knows that he has wandered into a strange twilight world where charlatanry and sincerity jostle each other at every moment.

3
From the time when Asia first attracted seekers after trade, wealth, adventure, and finally knowledge, until today, its fascination for Westerners has never been lost.

4
They brought from India's shores its pearls and its peppers, its silks and its spices, little knowing that this would later be followed by its religions and cults.

5
Thought and art, both together, side by side, thrive in the best periods of Oriental culture. And this was so as far west as the Arab civilization of Spain, as far east as that of China.

6
It was not the soldiers returning from war in the Near, Middle, and Far East who brought about this awakening to Oriental religion and philosophy. Rather, it was the war itself, and the great upheaval which it caused in people's thoughts about life. This was true especially in the young because it was they who had to witness the results of the war, and because it was they who had the freedom and courage to generate new ideas about the human situation. They protested, they revolted, they made fresh demands for great changes--and if the means they used with the accompanying violence were not orderly or desirable, the need for change was desirable.

7
Dr. Meumann's Reden des Gotamos, a translation into German of many of the Buddha's sayings, lay in manuscript for more than thirty years because it could not find a publisher. Then, in 1919, this lengthy volume was published in Berlin and immediately became a bestseller among the middle classes. Buddhism, with its highly ascetic outlook, its over-emphasis on suffering, its denial of earthly hope, could offer this ruined people only an inward peace at most. Yet the intellectual elements among them clutched at it in their despair. There was at the same time a wave of interest in Eastern wisdom and Oriental thought among the intelligentsia. But, when economic conditions improved in a few years, most of the interest fell away. Again when Rabindranath Tagore visited Europe in 1921, bringing, as he himself said, the spiritual message of the East to the West, it was in postwar Germany that he achieved a sensational success; it was in postwar Germany that his lectures and writing gained an appreciation tremendously greater than they gained anywhere else. During that year nearly a million copies of his translated books were sold, and there were always many more applicants than seats at his lectures.

8
The likelihood of increased interest in Indian yoga makes it more important than in prewar days to understand its real character and present condition.

9
These Oriental teachings have filtered down from the first scholarly translations to the latest vulgarized easy-reading surface-views journalistically conveyed to mass readers in the West. It is only since the last war that this has gone on so quickly.

10
The interest in yoga and mysticism will no doubt come to be regarded as one among the many historical movements of our time. Meanwhile, we can afford a good-humoured tolerance towards the freakish or foolish cults which come in on the same wave, provided always we understand that it is sternly necessary for tolerance to fall short of the evil ones, like witchcraft and satanism, and the charlatanistic ones.

11
It is no longer so common an experience to find mysticism belittled because of its unbalanced adherents or yoga disparaged because of its exotic unfamiliarity. For mystical ideas are beginning to tincture the thought of the thoughtful classes and yoga practices are beginning to show up among the physical exercise and health culture regimes of our day. People are more open-minded about the whole subject.

12
The popularity of Zen Buddhism in certain circles, the far wider practice of hatha yoga in other ones, brings danger to the authenticity, purity, and understanding of the original. Some parts of these three may be lost, another part distorted.

13
Yoga is on the way in the West to becoming respectable. What began with human curiosity is moving toward human acclamation.

14
Youngsters who take to the Indian religions with all the enthusiasm of converts, too often get a hazy understanding of the philosophy associated with them if, intellectually, there is any interest beyond the religious one itself. Nor is this surprising when the swamis who collect Western disciples confuse religion with philosophy in a kind of mixed-up Irish stew.

15
The young enthusiasts who have lately played with Oriental cults and Occidental systems of psychology may get some benefit from them, despite the adulterations and distortions which have been one consequence. In this sense, they are pioneers.

16
It is because the concepts of God held by their elders actually belittle God that a proportion of the young are prompted to discard the old established religions and seek elsewhere--particularly in Asia.

17
It is interesting to note that, in the last periods of their lifetimes, poets like W.B. Yeats and James Stephans and psychoanalysts like Carl G. Jung and Karen Horney took to the serious study of Indian or Japanese-Indian philosophy.

18
We witness today much more interest in these subjects of mysticism, meditation, and Oriental religion not only among the general public, but also among college students and even among scientists who wish to investigate.

19
Appreciation of the teachings of Hinduism and its highest expression, the Advaita, is increasing in the West. And, thanks to T.M.P. Mahadevan, His Holiness' faithful, competent, and brilliant disciple, it is being expounded through books and articles with great accuracy and authoritativeness. Mahadevan enjoys the grace of His Holiness. [Shankaracharya of Kamakoti]

20
The continued effect of this infiltration of Eastern ideas on Western minds is now becoming visible, but we have not come farther than a fraction of the distance it will yet go.

21
Even the English mentality has been forced to change, despite its reputed conservatism. Consider what American Emerson wrote a century ago in his private notebook after journeying to the Island Kingdom and observing its people: "The English hate transcendental ideas like the mysticism of Eastern philosophy and religion." If he were to come again, he would have to revise those sentences. There is now some new interest in transcendental ideas, some attraction towards "the mysticism of Eastern philosophy and religion."

22
When the Greek legions of conquering Alexander came back to their native shores and hung up their swords and shields for a while, some of them related to their relatives and friends strange stories of men whom they had seen in India--men called yogis.

23
The Indians, out of sentimental patriotism, make much of the limited number of historical evidences of the spread of their ideas to the West in early times. But they make little of the reverse trend brought about by the advance of Alexander's army, resulting in the spread of Grecian culture in the East.

24
It is an interesting fact that even with the earlier Greek philosophy, by which I mean earlier than Alexander the Great's time, we find points of contact in the teaching with points in the Indian philosophies. Of course after the incursion of Alexander into India one expects to find more such points and does so.

25
On the eve of Albuquerque's assault on Goa, a yogi predicted that foreigners from a distant land would conquer Goa. The first European state to dream of an Asiatic empire was Portugal and its first great soldier-sailor-statesman to go to Asia was Albuquerque.

26
E.H. Warmington's Commerce Between the Roman Empire and India (Cambridge University Press, 1928) covers the period from the triumph of Augustus, 20 b.c., to the death of Marcus Aurelius, 180 a.d.. In addition, de Villard, in La Scultura Ad Ahnas, gives a good bibliography of Indian contact with Egypt.

Alexandria was one of the great centres where Oriental wisdom met Western enquiry; Ephesus was another.

If the Arabs brought the first knowledge of Hindu thought to Europe, the Jesuits brought the first knowledge of Chinese thought.

We not only owe our religion to the East but also our mysticism. Some of the men returning home from the medieval Crusades brought occult theories and Kabbalistic practices with them.

Under Moorish rule the University of Almeria in Spain held classes in Sufism.

Sanskrit is considered, rightly, to be the finest language for expressing metaphysical, mystical, and philosophic thoughts generally. But Greek was not much inferior to it for this purpose.

When, along with the Jews, the Arabs were expelled from Spain in the 1490s, Europe lost a great source of culture, civilization, and mysticism. The Sufi tradition, knowledge, art, and meditational practice which was thus thrown out of Spain was a most valuable asset. Part of this asset was religious tolerance.

The first people to take up the study of Sanskrit literature on a more extensive scale than any other in Europe were the Germans. Among the small company of scholars who patiently thumbed the old Indian books--vehicle of the world's noblest and loftiest thoughts as they are--during the previous century, they were pre-eminent. Max Müller, the most famous of all Orientalists, was a German.

H.P. Blavatsky: "As early as in the days of Plato there were Brahmins in Greece. At one time they overflowed the country." Pliny shows them established on the shores of the Dead Sea. Origen reported: "The Brahmins say that God is Light, not such as one sees, nor the sun or fire."

In the third century b.c. a king ruling the vast Indian territories of the Mauryan dynasty requested the Seleucid Prince Antiochus Soter to dispatch "a real Greek philosopher" to him, offering large payment.

The coming of Alexander brought much change to that part of India which he conquered. What would have been the result of an admixture of Greek thought with Hindu mysticism if Alexander had pushed his advance beyond the river Beas until the end of his invasion had been realized? His policy of interracial marriage would have been fully implemented along with his plans to resettle Asiatics in Europe and vice versa.

It may be one of the mysteries of divine purpose why a mere handful of Englishmen who were a 15,000 mile sea journey from home and help were able to conquer within a few years one of the world's most extensive empires. It may be that we shall never learn why the gods that govern destiny literally gave India into our hands. But what is plain to see is that one consequence has been to bring Indian religious and philosophic knowledge before Western truth-seekers at an earlier date and in greater fullness than could have happened normally.


Value of Eastern thought

The nostalgia some Westerners feel for these remote exotic Oriental lands may arise from a feeling of their present environment's deficiency.

The Eastern countries offer a calmer environment for the quest, a fully worked out tradition, and a personal training. These advantages are missing in the Western countries.

Those who like to explore the exotic are among those attracted to the Oriental mysticism. This does not at all mean that they are searching for Truth.

What the Egyptian cult of Isis brought to Rome in earlier days, what the Persian cult of Mithras brought to Greece--that has been brought to Euro-America in recent days by the Indian cult of Yoga-Vedanta and the Sino-Japanese cult of Zen. All this is an attempt to supply what is deficient in the native religions and homely sects--dramatic promises, colourful refuges, intellectual comforts, and exotic techniques.

The Orient has made a name for itself among many travellers for its inertia and its filth. But is that all? Did not Jesus, Buddha, and Hafiz live and move in the Orient? Did not The Word sound forth from it?

The culture which was such a magnificent contribution via the Renaissance to Europe from ancient Greece and Rome is now being paralleled by the culture which ancient Asia is giving us. That the Greeks, Romans, and Indians alive today have lost so much of this themselves is irrelevant.

Here in Asia is a golden lode of wisdom waiting to be worked. What the Asiatic peoples have failed to do with it does not matter; what the enlightened twentieth century can do with it does matter.

He would do well to give respect, veneration, and love to the Oriental Wisdom. For when the structures that we Westerners have put up are gone, its verities will still be there, unchanged and unchangeable.

The Oriental use of the term "wisdom" not only includes our Occidental notion of Solomonic judgement in dealing with a situation, but ranges far enough to include the capacity to understand the universe as it really is in depth, and not merely in terms of sensory experience.

The Oriental masses live mostly in mud huts, just as the Occidental masses did several centuries ago. Thousands of years before that they lived in caves, just as the Occidentals did somewhat earlier. Is it not clear, then, that in practical things like operating to meet the needs of life in a physical world, we have gone ahead of them? If this is correct, the assumption that we have done so in the mental or spiritual worlds is wrong. Here they can be our teachers.

We who have tried to interpret the soul of the Orient--what it once was and what is still left of it--honour it but lament its misunderstandings.

Mysticism is as ancient as the Orient itself.

So many men have lived before us, have sought for the truth or peace in other countries than our own, have reflected deeply and experimented widely, that it would be folly to ignore the results they obtained or the conclusions they reached. What they wrote about life and mind ought to be studied, too.

Is it not ironic that such early texts of Asiatic wisdom provide the ultimate comment on modern ignorance?

Those who never look into the scriptures of other faiths and the philosophical works of the Eastern hemisphere, miss having light thrown on their own faith.

In excluding other religions, philosophies, and mysteries from their study, in shutting themselves in solely with their own tradition, they remain ignorant of the precious contribution the Orient's "wise men" and honoured records can make. A dialogue of this kind between both is an absolute necessity; it is not at all a disloyalty to the West, but rather a help and an enrichment.

It is salutary to go through a course in comparative religion, mysticism, and philosophy, to put our own tradition and culture alongside those of other peoples and other continents. It ought to diminish our pride as it leads to the discovery that the highest ideals and the subtlest wisdom have been taught elsewhere.

"All things proceed out of the same spirit, and all things conspire with it. . . . This thought dwelled always deepest in the minds of men in the devout and contemplative East. . . . Europe has always owed to Oriental genius its divine impulses."--R.W. Emerson in "Divinity School Address"

Philosophy would not be what it is were it to restrict the beginnings of culture to ancient Greece. Egypt, China, and India were doing grander things and contemplating deeper ideas before Europe did.

An Indian prince expressed to me his hope that the Vedanta shall be presented to the West so that they shall know at least that their discoveries and forward steps have long ago been anticipated in India. He hoped, too, that if the West accepted Vedanta as a consequence it would be led to accept the spiritual implications and form a common platform of unity between the nations, or at least between England and India. This would help to abolish war, establish lasting peace, and solve many problems in a spiritual way.

What healing, comforting, warning, or counselling words can be found in those ancient texts, whether Greek or Latin classics, Sanskrit or Chinese sutras!

What we might learn from India includes the virtue of modesty, the value of simplicity, the meaning of faith in the spiritual, and more.

We have not exhausted Oriental lore. There are untranslated texts and unfamiliar names still worth the attention of searchers after wisdom.

Yes, grave wisdom and strange secrets are still to be found in the East, although they are hid, like diamonds, and do not lie on the surface.


Modern opportunities

Consider that until a couple of hundred years ago, Sanskrit as a language and a literature was limited to the Brahmins, and that possession of the most important philosophical texts was limited to a small section of that caste. Yet today these Upanishads, as the texts are called, are easily accessible in several European translations to anyone in Europe or America interested in reading them. But, more significantly, they are just as accessible to any Indian today in his own land. Such is one result of the Western incursion into India, one illustration of the liberating effect of the Western scientific attitude.

It is true that our materialistic civilization has not favoured the practice of mysticism, that our science-weighted education has tended to crush the incipience of intuition, and that the claims which distract our attention are so much more numerous than those of earlier times. But it is also true that we are in possession of the sayings and writings of a hundred wise and illumined men, where in those times we would have had but a few. It is still more true that the wealth of spiritual lore which has accumulated in the Orient through thousands of years has been put into our hands. These are compensations whose value must be reckoned not too lightly.

In Europe and America the yearly increase of interest in subjects like meditation, yoga, and Hinduism goes on steadily, mostly among young academics and elderly ladies. All this is mixed up with half-related subjects, some of doubtful nature. Mantra yoga and hatha yoga are the most popular; but small numbers of really serious questers after the highest truth and higher spiritual experience also exist, and among them some find their way to Advaita. Here the writings of Vivekananda, Mahadevan, and Radhakrishnan have been the strongest influence. The idea of reincarnation has become fairly familiar and, even if not accepted, is now discussed tolerantly and sympathetically. In some ways, all this has developed along with a certain cheapening which may distort the old traditions of Hinduism and lessen the respect for its swamis or gurus. Nevertheless, it has made many texts and commentaries available for the seeker. Such books as the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the sayings of saints like Ramana Maharshi are now printed, for the first time, in the principal Western languages. As a ticket-holder of the Vatican library, I am amazed at the gathered past hundred and fifty years' texts.

Time, history, change, events--these things are not meaningless. Those who sought truth in ancient times had to seek it through a much more limited personal experience, a much more restricted environmental range. We today have the possibility of an immensely larger number of personal contacts and tremendously extended area of enquiry.

The students of today are luckier than those of yesterday who risked being beaten with a club in Tibet or with a long pole in Japan or being seated for class lectures on the verge of a cliff in China.

Exotic teachers, living in or coming from distant lands, especially Oriental lands, have a greater appeal than the ordinary kind, than the prophets who, it is asserted, are without honour in their own country.

The Indian yogis have not deserted their peaceful homeland for the noisier one of California. What has happened is that a few Indian missionaries have been sent by their organizations to propagate the religion of Hinduism. This is the Indian people's way of expressing their gratitude for the sympathetic response to Swami Vivekananda's teachings.

Whatever they may say about their universal attitude, it will not stand a deep test and I regard them as missionaries for Hinduism. But I personally feel gratified at the presence of these swamis in Western countries. It is out of the interaction of both Christian and Hindu ideas that a more favourable atmosphere will be created for the reception of the truer ideas of philosophy.

The difficulty of dealing with these Indian pundits is that they merely echo back their scriptures. We get no original thinking, no fresh view upon a subject. The modern standpoint needs no vindication today.

The expounders and advocates of yoga have made their point: the readers and disciples want its early and elementary versions less and less, its later and advanced developments more and more.

While we need to absorb all the worthwhile wisdom which the Orient has still to give us, this is quite different from prostrating a slavish mentality before it and regarding every swami or guru with exaggerated deference and listening to him with blind faith.

It is not recommended that the average Westerner who has family responsibilities take up any of the Indian yoga paths or become a disciple of an Indian teacher. Such a course is unsuited both to the average Western mentality and to his living habits, and could only lead to disappointing results. We of the West must work out our own salvation.

The teaching brought by these émigré Swamis is better fitted for their own climate and country.

He will profit more by becoming the admirer than the disciple of these outstanding figures of the Indian yogic world.

Their gurus are rightly revered but wrongly deified.

Raja yoga can as easily be practised in America as in India, even easier in the former country, when one understands it properly, because of certain factors. There is no special merit in going to the Orient, though many think so. The difficulties which hinder a seeker in the West and which are not found in the East are nevertheless paralleled by a new set of difficulties in the East which are not found in the West!

It is perfectly true that a sensitive man will find stimulus in the Orient and perhaps develop himself spiritually there, but it is equally true that he can develop himself by other means if he stays in his home country.

A change in longitude will hardly change an obtuse mind. Those who were spiritually unreceptive in England are unlikely to become spiritually receptive in India.

You do not have to go to India to save your soul. You do not have to become a caricatured reflection of the yogis of India to live spiritually in the West.

If God is ever and everywhere present, and if the soul is that part of this presence in everyone, then it is clear that there is no need to go to India in search of it. To believe otherwise is to tie oneself unnecessarily to a shackling-iron. A man may never land on the shores of India but he may still find the soul and thus become aware of his relationship to God.

You need go to no one and no where, if you are seeking God. If this is your sincere desire, you have no need to go outside your own consciousness.

What can you do in India that you cannot do in your own land? The same struggle against the passions, the emotions, and the ego which is taking place in the one country is taking place in the other. You cannot escape it by moving the body from one spot to a different one. What you have to achieve is within yourself. If you are running to India for refuge, you will be forced to learn there that your only refuge is a purified character, a disciplined self.

A psychiatrist on the staff of the University of Zurich spent some time visiting the Indian ashrams and gurus. He says he met eight Europeans and Americans who were wearing monkish or nunnish robes and that, with the exception of one of them, to quote his words, "They remained self-willed and intolerant Westerners who had inflated their little egos with the Indian wisdom as a means to power." He also said that their mental structure was too restricted and hard, too narrow and weak to be able to take in the Indian tradition in the proper way--in short, that they needed psychoanalytic treatment before they came in contact with that tradition.

A few persons with peculiar characters and exotic tastes have tried to settle down permanently in India, Ceylon, Japan, or Thailand in order to follow further their spiritual Quest or to receive tuition from a spiritual Guru. Many if not most of them adopt native dress and eat native food. But most people do not feel so deep an attraction to so different a way of life. It must be made clear to them that it is not at all necessary for them to uproot themselves in this way. It is better for each to find what suits his own upbringing, environment, character, and temperament. Even if we find our roots in Asia, as many of us must--and particularly in that part of the continent which has produced the glorious Gita and the majestic Upanishads--we, with some exceptions, ought still to develop our own distinctive adaptation.

The tiny trickle of persons who find their way to India, enthusiastically join its ashrams, and even wear its dress represents one form which this response has taken. But it is a form which cannot solve the West's problems, and one we cannot recommend to the modern world. We would not obstruct those who care for it, but we think there is a better way.

Those who are so fascinated by the ancient tenets and methods that they surrender themselves wholly to them are living in the past and are wasting precious time relearning lessons which they have already learned.

There can be no doubt that many individuals are attracted to the Orient primarily because of subconscious auto-suggestion. However, if they were born in the West in this lifetime, it is important that they seek out and learn the lessons presently offered. For these represent the "other half of the whole." Experiences in the East in earlier incarnations provided the first part; now it is necessary to build on that foundation and to acquire knowledge of and for the second part--if progress is to be made and not come to a standstill.

The thought and force of East and West have not only to meet in him, but also to balance themselves.

We Westerners are too hardheaded to be satisfied with the metaphysical approach which satisfies many Easterners. We want to coordinate a spiritual way with the life that is around us, with the need for providing for a home, a family, a business, that willy-nilly is our duty. The search for philosophic ultimates frankly bores us because we cannot relate them to the work that we have to do in offices, in factories, in shops, on farms, or to the difficulties in marriage. Orientals should not despise our attitude but rather should try to comprehend it.

It is not good for some students to immerse themselves in Oriental literature, as they may need to find a less negative and more positive attitude. These should give thought to adapting themselves to the external world in which they find themselves today, however hard and harsh it seems. They should give more attention to mastering successfully the practical side of life. If they submit to the influence of the yogis they will finish up as nuns or monks, using Hindu terminology instead of Christian, lost to the real service of society and basking in delusive peace but as remote from truth or esoteric philosophy as ever.

The notion common in the Orient that life is a misfortune, that we must achieve an inner deadness in order to become immune to its mental harassments, is somewhat one-sided.

We Westerners ought to be humbler than we usually are in confessing that we need to borrow some spiritual bread from the Orient today as we did long ago. We ought also to be humble enough to confess those defects in our civilization and culture which arise from our emphasis on the quest for material wealth or livelihood. But, this said, let us firmly reject the absurd exaggerations of those Orientals who accuse us of a materialism so gross that we are unable to respond to spiritual urges at all. This is nonsense. It is true that the Oriental's basic instinct moves toward religion. But in this modern era, this instinct is being overlaid with those same urges which have made the West what it is today. The same process overtook medieval Europe. Let us all, then, face the truth about what is really happening to us, both here and there, to all races alike. For make no mistake: it is a universal phenomenon. When the era of science overtook the West, the era of reason applied to mechanical development and external institutions, the push towards it was so great, the rewards so attractive, that we lost much of our balance. The East is being drawn in the same direction, the chief difference being that it has started later in time, and the same push is ominously beginning to appear all over the East. Will it not lead ultimately to the same defects? Not quite, for the Easterner has the spectacle of our own lopsidedness to warn him whereas we had no living example to provide us with such a lesson. What is the meaning behind this universal process? For we cannot believe it to be accidental in a divinely ordered world?

Philosophy answers that it is a fated evolution, that man everywhere is intended to develop his intelligence and refine his feeling in all directions. It is not materialism to attend to physical matters, to work for one's livelihood, to seek the comforts and conveniences of applied science or even the beautiful homes of applied art. Man is a growing creature: his reasoned thinking demands that he seek the one, and his aesthetic feeling demands that he seek the other. The materialism enters when, to get these things, we forget the daily need of prayer and meditation, of listening for the voice of moral conscience and heeding the laws of spiritual balance.

I cannot commend these studies too highly to those who feel drawn by Eastern wisdom, nor compliment the students too warmly for their exceptional interest in matters about which little is really known in the West and less understood. We must try to take a sane balanced view between the materialists, on the one hand, and the idealists, on the other. There are few who have much sympathy with Oriental methods of psychological investigation, and fewer still who have done more than discreetly hint at their own indebtedness to them.

René Guénon is the author of East and West. He once edited the French journal Le Voile D'Isis. His intelligence and metaphysical capacity are most admirable and his literary style is dignified and superior. Although his appraisals of the causes of the troubles of Western civilization are correct, philosophy does not agree with the return to tradition which he proposes as a remedy. In the book mentioned above, he is inclined to consider himself an authority. But his experience is limited to the Mediterranean Muslim territories and he has not travelled in India or China, so naturally his experience is not large enough to give an adequate comparison of Eastern and Western outlooks. The East which he pictures in this book is not accurately represented. The process of Westernization and modernization which is today going on throughout the Orient is not merely skin-deep, as he asserts, nor confined to a small minority of the younger generation whom he dismisses so contemptuously. On the contrary, it is a process which is penetrating deeply into the outlook and external life of the majority of the population. It is something which has come to stay because it is not as repugnant to the Easterner as Guénon asserts it to be, for it fills the need of which the East is becoming increasingly conscious. Owing to his extreme point of view and limited experience, Guénon is unable to form a scientifically correct estimate of the inner and outer development through which the Oriental is passing. What may be said in modification of this is: although the East is descending so quickly into acceptance of the Western material outlook, it will not sink as far into the extreme depth of materialism as the West did temporarily but will always retain something of its spiritual culture, which is indeed in the blood of the Oriental. One reason why such a complete descent is impossible is that the average Indian, for example, possesses a pineal gland which is nearly double the size of that possessed by the average European, and it is through this gland that man first receives his highest spiritual consciousness.

To sum up: Guénon's book is to be highly praised for advocating increasing the function of pure intellectual--that is, metaphysical--study into Western life. But it must be criticized when it recommends, to both the East and the West, abjuring the development of the practical and scientific attitude. Philosophy does not make such a mistake but accepts metaphysics, as it accepts science and mysticism.

A critic like Sir M. Monier Williams writes, "The Yoga system appears in fact to be a mere contrivance for getting rid of all thought or of concentrating the mind with the utmost intensity upon nothing in particular." Sir Williams was an enthusiastic Christian--so enthusiastic that he lost a little impartiality when writing about other faiths.

The encounter with other religions is most needed by those who seek it least.

A way of life which belongs to ancient and far-off lands is not necessarily to be copied in its entirety merely because it has a few good features and ideas. Those young men and women and youths who lack balance in themselves or in their confused search for a better existence naïvely believe and fanatically behave otherwise.

We have borrowed ideas from the Orient only to discover that they already existed here since the earliest days, but were neglected and ignored.

There are persons in the West who are as spiritually minded and as spiritually wise as one may find elsewhere, but who have never set eyes on the Orient, nor sat at the feet of an Indian guru.

To place the only competent masters in the Orient and nowhere else is to deny the entire spiritual history of the West. Were Eckhart, Molinos, Emerson, Pythagoras, and Saint Teresa not Occidentals? Is there any law forbidding the Indian gurus to reincarnate in the West? If not, why may there not be illumined Occidentals who in former lives were illumined Orientals?


Western arrogance

It is customary to consider the ancients as people in a lower state of development, barbarous, superstitious, and even foolish, and to look upon our present-day generation as having attained the crest of an evolutionary process, as having reached a high degree whose glorious result--civilization--we perceive around us. That individuals existed in former times who were highly intellectual, knowledgeable, sane, and sensible is yet a notion that we who have been glamoured by Broadway skyscrapers and metropolitan railways find difficult to entertain. How did those early prehistoric Egyptians, with little experience and less machinery, construct such architectural masterpieces as the Pyramids? Where did they obtain astronomical knowledge so marvellously developed that they could calculate to a nicety the exact period of the revolution of the sun, the exact distance of the earth from the sun, and the exact circumference of the earth? Who taught them to construct the Great Circle of Gold which marked the positions of the rising and setting of the chief stars, to take observations of these stars with meticulous care and exactness, and to discover that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is always 3.1416? By what means did the Indians of the pre-Christian era arrive at so much mathematical knowledge? How did they come to invent the numeral and the decimal or to anticipate the discovery of the algebraic symbol and the trigonometric sine? How did the Chinese devise printing methods and publish newspapers more than a thousand years before they appeared in Europe? All these cultural developments could only have occurred among peoples who paid some regard to brains. How could the Orientals have known such things if they were entirely barbarous races, if they had not learned, cultured, and intelligent people among them? Thus reason reveals what arrogance denies. Those critics who laugh at the ancients merely because they are dead and did not have the good fortune to live so late as our twentieth century will yet learn the truth of the trite proverb that he laughs best who laughs last.

The sayings of Krishna to Arjuna possess a worth even for the modern young man, did he but understand them aright. Lao Tzu, the king of the Chinese philosophers and the philosopher of Chinese kings, developed a teaching for all time; but alas we are too stuffed with intellectual conceit to listen. Egypt has left a marvellous memory, in the gigantic monuments which are strewn about the land of the Nile, but her understanding of after-death mysteries is not yet ours.

Those who criticize (generally through ignorance) the two widest Asiatic faiths, Hinduism and Buddhism, and call them life-denying because of their ascetics and celibates, hermits and monks, are utterly mistaken. These ancient religions are not denying life but seeking it through what seems to them to be higher and holier forms. Whether right or wrong, Hindus and Buddhists are entitled to their opinion in this matter.

"It is not to be wondered at that people suffering under the Indian heat sought fictitious escape by turning their attention to religions of escape like Buddhism and Hinduism." Such is the theory often put forward by those who glorify the West with all its remarkable achievements and sneer at the East as a half-dead area of the world. There is a little truth in it, but only a little.

Most Europeans are so convinced of the superiority of the West that they have never troubled to inquire what there is of worth here.

Another disagreeable result of this arrogant belief is the parallel belief that the race has not only been chosen to be a sacred one but also to be an exploiting one. God has given it permission to invade, conquer, rob, and govern all other races.

White nations who are bewildered by present Asiatic hatred suffer the penalty of past white arrogance.

We despise Orientals because they lack qualities which we possess, but we forget that they have similar reasons for despising us.

We should not carry a trace of contempt in our demeanour or we learn nothing that is of worth in this sensitive Hindustan.

Professor Frederic Spiegelberg, in Spiritual Practices of India, says, "It has been said, without justification, that in ancient India man's conscious being had not yet evolved into special, individualistic forms. On the contrary, many Hindu manuals dealing with the study of character show how thoroughly, even in early times, people in India concerned themselves with the great diversity of human nature, and how much weight they gave to this diversity in their education." The view which Spiegelberg characterizes as unjustified was put forward by Rudolf Steiner. The latter's views on Oriental mysticism were incorrect on other points too.

Khrushchev story: To please his hosts on a visit to India, he sent a committee to investigate yoga. They reported adversely, saying they found it gloomy and apparently doing nothing. One can only imagine what had happened: Russians seeking material development for their country were offered the practice of inner withdrawal, "dropping out," and seemed unhelped by all this sitting down and doing nothing.


Romantic glamour

It is understandable why Norman Douglas was fascinated by old Goa, with its colourful background, its quaint eighteenth-century half-European, half-Hindu appearance, its Portuguese baroque churches and tropical gay bazaars, its spicy food and luxuriant flowers. But that was half a hundred years ago. The Goa of today must surely have noticeably changed atmosphere and appearance--if reports be true. Moreover, Douglas saw it only as a young visitor out to enjoy the new and different: he did not have to live there permanently.

If, in their despair of finding spiritual nourishment in the available orthodox sources and in their dismay at the failure of contemporary ethics, Western seekers after truth should throw themselves completely into the exotic and mysterious waters of Asiatic mysticism, their major problems would still remain unsolved.

It was easy in those early days to cover the true picture of Indian spirituality with romantic glamour, to paint it as one hoped it should be in actuality. One came, hoping to find there in India what could not be found anywhere else--at least not in Europe and America and Australia. It was of course based on a mirage.

I suffered from Indolatry in those early years. In the two parts of my personality, the intellect's scientific respect for facts was submerged by the tremendously ancient semi-mesmeric atmosphere--stretching back to Atlantis--of religion's power and a tropical temperature's effect. But drastic experiences came with the years and awakened me. Return to a colder climate helped too. With both sides of India--the negative and the positive--now in sight, a just and fair appraisal of the situation was finally made. Indolatry and idolatry are connected. Now hundreds of young Westerners are taking to the same worship. How long they will remain adherents of the same cult we shall see. Meanwhile there is a strengthening of the anti-materialistic forces in the West as a result, more support for a living religion, better interpretation of Christianity, along with the imported superstition.

In the blind adherence to superstitious beliefs which affects Westerners who try to turn themselves into Hindus, I am more anti-Hindu than most prejudiced sceptics; but in the deep acclaim for the wonderful truth-statements to be found in some ancient Indian texts, I am more pro-Hindu than the swami followers. This is because in both cases I write from inside knowledge and personal experience. My attitude is consequentially a semi-detached one.

The idea that a teacher must be found, and can only be found within a radius of two thousand miles from Delhi, is more than wrong. It is ridiculous.

The notion that a master awaits him under an Eastern sky may be beneficial but it is not a necessary one.

Bacon said, "It is better to visit a wise man than a fair city." He also wrote, "You shall rather go a hundred miles out of your way to speak with a wise man than to see a fair city."

Few Westerners want to travel in quest of Oriental wisdom, although many will travel as tourists. It requires a special avocation to go as a pilgrim to Asia and settle down there with a spiritual teacher in order to find one's own soul. It is indeed an evidence in favour of belief in reincarnation that a number of foreigners feel a compulsive necessity to do so, even though few are able to manipulate their circumstances toward this end.

Without understanding its message to man, without reverence for its houses of prayer and meditation, the tourist comes and leaves empty-handed, though his case bulges with souvenirs.

The newcomer landing for the first time in a country like India imagines many more gurus and disciples in those unfamiliar faces than he will actually find, much more spirituality in those ancient cities and villages than there really is.

Often, in some remote part of the interior of Asia, when he is out of touch with civilization, the thoughtful unprejudiced traveller is led to reflect on this need of recovering some of the primitive simplicities and mingling them with our modern sophistications.

Tourists who indulge in a frenzied rush through the country cannot possibly know India, but Britishers who dwell in their world apart for twenty years do not know it either. To understand this misunderstandable land, one must live with the Indians--and especially with the Indians of the interior, of the villages, the plains, and the mountains.

We may ask whether it is not selfish for the penniless Euramerican beatniks and hippies to play the role of mendicant around India, where poverty and hunger are so widespread, in their self-proclaimed search for truth.


Western assimilation of Eastern thought

If this higher philosophy is to become more acceptable among the Western races, it will have to be formulated by members of those races themselves and be presented in a modern, suitable form. It will be necessary to find inspired Western sources to whom we may turn for its interpretation and Truth instead of trying to depend on contemporary India.

It is my maturest conviction that if the Western multitudes are to be saved from materialism, only Western thought and Western individuals will ever do it.

Only he who teaches as a Westerner for Westerners can evoke the best intellectual and emotional response from them. Only a few among them will accept and understand an Oriental teacher as fully as his own compatriots would. Even this is achievable only because their intuitive development is sufficiently advanced.

In the end, when the ancient and medieval classics have been studied and enjoyed, when the Asiatic texts have been pored over and venerated, we find ourselves back in the world as it is now and here. Our readings are not complete. We need to hear a contemporary voice which knows and speaks out of our own conditions also, not out of incredibly different ones.

It will be a long time before the divergent currents of Orient and Occident can really mingle into a single stream possessing its own special characteristics. Meanwhile we of the West must work out our own salvation.

I do not say that the West must work out its own salvation entirely by and out of its own resources. I say that it should do that while helping its effort out by seeking and accepting the East's contribution. But it should be a contribution, not a domination. To adopt such an attitude, the West will have to lift itself above racial prejudice and become more universal.

The views explained in my later books, though first formulated by ancient Oriental sages, have never gained prominence in the Orient. This is another reason why I assert that we of the West have to shake ourselves free of spiritual subservience to decaying traditions and work out our own salvation.

It would be interesting to speculate what manner of life the great Oriental yogis would have lived had they been born in Western countries, and what sort of modifications they would have introduced into their teachings as a result.

The truths contained in Asiatic wisdom are of tremendous value, but the West will not care to appreciate them unless they are offered without the labels of Asiatic names--especially religious ones--and without the weight of Asiatic tradition.

An analytic study of the unconscious mind is made in The Wisdom of the Overself. The new synthesis of the Eastern tradition and the Western movement must and will come and will absorb what is true and useful in yoga and combine it with modern research. Such synthesis can emerge only from a prejudice-free study and practice which is both critical and sympathetic at the same time. It will have to be a new effort, actuated by a new spirit, inspired by new ideals, and freed from the superstitions which have been so abundant heretofore. Such an effort cannot emerge from an Indian ashram, as the spirit of truth is not its primary governing principle.

The need today is something which only a system created in our own era could satisfy. Although the wisdom of the sages remains always unchanged, it is equally true that it must be modified to suit the needs and circumstances of each historic period. The world has gone through too many changes and through too many great upheavals today to be adequately served by messages which were delivered 2500 and 5000 years ago as in the case of the two Asiatic religions, Buddhism and Hinduism. We of the West must become truly creative.

It must be creative enough to wake up from the mesmeric spell which keeps it looking either to the East, a spell which powerfully instills the unhealthy suggestion that authority and finality reside there alone, or to neo-medievalism in the West.

I have for some years kept myself apart from Indian spiritual movements of every kind and do not wish to get associated with them in any way. Consequently, I shall not resume my contact with any swami or yogi, for I wish to work in utter independence of them. My reasons are based on the illuminations which have come to me, on my understanding that the West must work out its own salvation, and on the narrow-minded intolerance of the Indian mentality towards any such creative endeavour on the West's part.

The Western peoples will never be converted wholesale to Hinduism or Buddhism as religions, nor will their intelligentsia take wholesale to Vedanta or Theosophy as philosophies. These forms are too alien and too exotic to affect the general mass. Historically, they have only succeeded in affecting scattered individuals. The West's spiritual revival must and can come only out of its own creative and native mind.

It will not be enough merely to modify the Oriental disciplines and doctrines to render them congenial to Occidentals. A creative endeavour to bring forth the wisdom embedded in our own deepest consciousness is also needed. Nor will it be enough for a single man to make this endeavour. A collective contribution will be required.

To rescue this monumental figure from the sands of long neglect and admire its musty glory is not enough. Yet this seems to be the limits of the wish and work of the Hindus themselves, and of most Buddhists, if they are at all interested. But the statue needs cleaning, the accretions need removal, and it must be set up in a natural environment, not in a museum of antiquities. For this last item some work of creative adaptation is required to fit it into today's newer world.

We cannot shake our Greek heritage out of us, nor should we want to. The wisdom of the East must intertwine with the wisdom of the West.

What we accept from the Orient's culture and what we discard, should be accepted or discarded within the scope of the Occident's own central vision.

If we are to take ideas from the Orientals, this is only to complement and complete those we supply for ourselves. If we are to learn from them, this need not and should not be at the expense of our own instinct for self-individualization.

Just as the Japanese, the Chinese, the Cambodians, and the Javanese took some religious, social, or cultural forms which were intrinsically derived from India, each of these peoples molded the form anew into one better suited to, and more expressive of, their own native character.

It is both wise and right that we should study the religious faiths and doctrines of the past, practise the yoga techniques and asceticisms of bygone eras, and revere the inspired teachers and prophets of other lands and times and not treat them as quaint picturesque museum pieces. To gain the larger outlook which philosophy demands, we must familiarize ourselves with the chief teachings of the past, with the chief messages of the whole world. It is indeed through assimilation of all these bygone teachings that the present one will best be assimilated; through their comprehension this will be more fully comprehended, too. They give us something which we can bring to bear on the knowledge which belongs to our own times and can help us grasp it more effectively. Only after we have done this, only after we have absorbed them into our inner being through study and sympathy, are we entitled--nay, expected--to stand aside from them and concentrate exclusively on the new teaching, the contemporary message of our own era. For it is foolish and wrong to remain immured in the antique systems and not to proceed beyond them. We have been born in this twentieth century to understand what was not previously revealed and to discover what will conform to its advanced needs.

Those in the West who saw that it could not proceed metaphysically to its farther possibilities out of its own resources, nor develop mystically, had to call in the aid of Oriental knowledge, experience, and teaching. This was a wise and broad-minded move. But this is not the same as deserting the Occidental heritage, from the early Greeks onward. Some do this and become fanatics.

Just as the Westerner is feeding and clothing his physical body, furnishing his home, conducting his business and operating his factories with stuffs from all parts of the world, thus enjoying a fuller larger life than his forebears ever did, so he ought to feed his mind on ideas from all worthy sources and build it up in a healthy way. He ought to keep open the willingness to recognize and receive spiritualizing impressions from outside. Their acceptance ought not to be allowed to imply the renunciation of what he has developed out of his own original resources. He need not give it up in order to take the other in. If any of these values is missing from a full culture, the latter is thereby and to that extent impoverished. Each has its distinctive offering to make. Let him accept it then. Let him assimilate all worthy elements but let him take care to do so from his own independent point of view. If he is to receive Asiatic ideas, let him receive them respectfully and appreciatively but let him not surrender completely and uncritically to them. Thus at the same time he will remain faithful to his own inner vocation and fulfil the purpose of this particular incarnation in the Western world.

Only dreamers can believe that the modern West can take over these old Eastern systems wholesale, unaltered and untouched. Wisdom bids it adapt what it desires to accept.

We want to adapt the wisdom known in the East to the age in which we live. This is important, for unless this wisdom receives such a development it will remain uncared for, or disappear from the world.

Because I was once responsible for turning a number of eyes towards India in search of light, I now feel morally responsible for turning most of them back homewards again. This is not to be misunderstood, for it is not the same as asking people to ignore India. No! I say that we all should study and digest the Oriental wisdom. But I also say first, that we should not make it our sole and exclusive diet and second, that we should cook, spice, and serve it in a form suitable to our Occidental taste.

Most either fall in love with the Oriental presentations and attitudes on spiritual matters or underestimate them. There ought to be room for a few who want to take an independent stand, who try to be impartial, and who know the subject.

But whatever teachings these prophets give us, and however lofty their nature, message, ethics, they have still to be received in our minds as further thoughts and added to the store which we already have and which conditions us and, in a way, imprisons us.

Thread your way through the Oriental maze with discrimination. Especially should Buddhist pessimism and Hindu asceticism receive a balanced appraisal, a fair but critical judgement based on knowledge.

It will not suit the West to be a mere borrower of Indian ideas. It will not do for us to get our wisdom at second hand. We have first ruthlessly to sort out the unprovable rubbish from the ideas of time-resisting merit. We have next to rethink them in our own scientific way.

But while he studies these ancient teachings, whether of East or West, he studies history too and learns from it how much decay they suffered, how gravely they deteriorated with time as they fell into lethargy, and, especially, how narrow, bigoted, and unworthy became those who later took the name but lost the spirit.

All mystical doctrines need to be studied with care and sifted with discrimination: this is especially so with Oriental doctrines and reports.

Gratitude is due from the Westerners to these Indians for having preserved these texts, but perhaps not so much gratitude. The infiltration of religious superstitions in the pages is marked.

Many available translations are wooden and dull because of their literal correctitude, their miserable attempt to preserve the letter of the text while squeezing out its spirit. The consequence is that their work becomes half-meaningless to Western readers. Here we shall endeavour to avoid such versions and to mold our interpretations in easier and more expressive if literally laxer forms. What is overlooked by those who make such absolutely literal but not literary translations of Oriental texts is that their versions often convey no definite idea to the mind of the reader but only empty phrases.

Although for the ardent student an introduction to Sanskrit terms would be best, as he would already be familiar with fine shades of their meaning, still their face is so unfamiliar to the general educated public that to help them it is wiser to invent the more familiar Greek or Latin derivatives.

When a Westerner reads a Sanskrit term in an English-language book, it is bad enough if its translation is not given in brackets, or in a footnote, or in a glossary at the end. But even if the translation is given, the word presents him with a phonetic problem. When the whole book has a half-hundred such terms he becomes bored or irritated.

Christian minds are better pleased and more helped if they are not unnecessarily bewildered by exotic Oriental terms. "The Naught" of Dionysius the Areopagite="The Void" of Buddhist texts.

If in ancient times it was the people of India who accumulated the most considerable knowledge of inner being and inner life and passed it on to other Asiatic lands who absorbed it, even they, today, show sadly attenuated remnants of life and practice related to this knowledge and of consciousness that could be called higher. His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Shankaracharya, of Kamakoti Peeta in South India, has himself lamented in recent years this great and grave change which is taking place in his country. But I venture to say that these changes have been occurring everywhere, not only in India, and that they are written in the horoscope of man, so far has he failed in the past to live up to the high code set for his stage of development during each cycle of history. Humanity cannot live in its past glories alone, and the constant turning backward effects in our day a kind of nostalgia. All this is not enough. The modern consciousness, the modern circumstances are not the same as the ancient, and it is essential for man to find out how he can live in and with it and yet hold on to the best of his ancient heritage. This is his task. Even in those ancient Sanskrit texts, and even in Lao Tzu's writing, thousands of years ago, the higher minds and the holier persons were lamenting the ebbing of the glories of their past.

It may be difficult for a modern Westerner to live in the remote past of these texts, as it may be difficult for him to attain the rarefied metaphysical atmosphere which surrounds them.

The old doctrines fall behind not in their content but in their form, not because the new times are better but because they are different. Do what we will to pretend otherwise, the world of Arjuna and Shankara remains separated from us by wide changes in the very fabric of living itself. The growth of knowledge and the width of outlook immensely exceed those of ancient times.

We are more interested today in twentieth-century man's search for life's meaning and not with second-century man's search. The goal of both is the same because the Overself is timeless; but the way to it cannot be the same, for not only has evolution changed his environment but it has also changed the man himself. We have to find a new approach to an old objective. A Teaching must be related to its times. It is not enough to give us today what helped a few thousand Hebrews or a few hundred thousand Hindus, all mostly living a pastoral life thousands of years ago. Give us that, yes, but give us also what will help two thousand millions living all over this planet under postwar conditions. We cannot go back to live under ancient skies except imaginatively. That we live in this amazing twentieth-century is itself sufficient ground for a way of thought and life which shall have twentieth-century inspiration. Spiritual illumination comes to lead us forward, not backward. When today all mankind are on the move after their greatest war, when the most drastic upheavals and the most dramatic changes of their whole history are occurring, how can the quest of man's divine self-fulfilment remain static, immobile, and unaffected? To believe that after these unheard-of experiences, intelligent men and women can be induced to go on facing twentieth-century problems with second-century attitudes is merely to deceive oneself. That there are still some mystically minded persons and enthusiasts for Oriental monasticism who think otherwise merely betrays, first, their lack of intelligence and, second, that the war passed over their unreflective heads as though they were sleeping Rip Van Winkles.

Those who ignore the existence of this gap between our own time and that of the old texts, between our own mental or physical environment and that within which they were written, will think hazily and act artificially. They will subscribe to creeds or join with cults which have only a fragmentary connection with their existence as it really is in this modern world. This is not intended as a criticism of either ancient or Oriental ideas--I owe too much to both and am always grateful to both--but as a warning of the need of care and of honest realism.

The present danger is not in Westerners turning to India but in turning to India for the wrong things. Let them turn in great numbers to the ancient Indian mystical literatures for spiritual help; this will be a wise and welcome move. But let them not turn to ancient Hinduism and become its ill-fitting proselytes, nor to contemporary Hindu mysticism and become its blind followers, nor to yogic ashrams and become their escapist inmates. Above all, let them remember that spirituality has never been in the past and certainly is not in the present the sole monopoly of Indians, nor most highly attained by them alone. Therefore Western people should seek their spiritual help from India as one contribution among several, and not limit themselves to its particular form alone. Huxley, Heard, Maugham, and Isherwood are but Western babes in the Vedantic wood. The swamis, being themselves lost in it, can never lead them out of it. They talk of the universal nature but in the talking and despite it set up a cult, start a sect, promote vested interests, and compete with rival organizations. They talk of the universal nature of truth but insist on harking back to past presentations of it. They denounce the sacrilege of the twentieth century creatively giving birth to its own original presentation. They talk of the universal nature of truth but use the parochial language of Indian mythology, Indian religion, and Indian yoga.

Vedanta is a labyrinth. That I once wandered in this wood, too, was inevitable. That I was able to escape it was a miracle. Although there are treasures in it which make the adventure worthwhile, the mistake is to remain in it overlong to the point of failing to fulfil the duty of this present twentieth-century incarnation. For we have new treasures to find, new lessons to learn, new responsibilities to carry out.

In its own homeland, Vedanta has remained little more than a negative and neglected cult. Exported to an alien land, it has even less chance of rising above that miserable status. What the West needs and must find is something so compellingly contemporary as to inspire it to be creatively good and positively spiritual.

A blindly imitative acceptance of archaic wisdom will not suit the modern world. An intelligent and conscious assimilation of its most worthwhile portions will, however, satisfy an urgent need.

It is a pleasant sentimentality to yearn for the medieval past, to take refuge from modern pressure in idealized traditions.

The colonnades of the Greek temples are admirable but men no longer worship before or behind them: their gods and oracles are silent. We too need new inspirations today and are not too comfortable among the debris of the past.

Those who are satisfied with the ancient outlooks and ignore all the later ones should be consistent and retire from the modern world physically, as they have retired from it intellectually. They should refuse the results of every human invention since Upanishadic days and discard the clothes, food, instruments, and vehicles unknown then.

The lifestyles of the ancient and medieval Orientals must also be taken into account in valuating their spiritual disciplines. The differences from our own are enough to give us pause.

It may be a mistake to attribute extreme holiness to extreme antiquity.

Those who are so fascinated by the ancient tenets and methods that they surrender themselves wholly to them are living in the past and are wasting precious time relearning the past. They are ignoring the lessons of Western civilization. Why were they reborn in the West if not to learn new lessons? Let them absorb whatever is good and useful and true in the old teaching, but let them give it the new form required by our altered conditions of life. They must be flexible enough to adapt themselves to the demands made by the present. Those teachers who have not perceived this continue to teach the old methods alone. They are phonographically handing down that which they have received by tradition. If they had realized the inner spirit of their inheritance rather than its musty outer form, they would have become utterly free of the past. For then they would stand alone in the great Aloneness. And out of such a spirit they would instinctively give what is needed now, not what was needed in past centuries. We may welcome the knowledge and custom which have come down to us from those who have lived before but we must not become embalmed in them. Our times are not theirs, our world shows large differences from that in which they dwelt, and our needs are peculiarly our own. Nature will not permit us to revert in complete atavism even if we try, for disappointment calls us back in the end. Here is today's book of life, she says; read it and master the fresh lessons it offers you.

We who have had to find our foothold in modern living, having no choice in the matter, cannot copy a past Tibetan, African, Indian incarnation without suffering a form of schizophrenia.

It is clear that an ecclesiastical change from one old orthodox institution to another will not meet the issue; a movement from Hinduism to Christianity or from Christianity to Hinduism, for example, will not satisfy the modern need.

While continuing to affirm that we must study and absorb whatever is true useful and elevating in the ancient Indian culture, just as with all other cultures, so as to become heir to the wisdom of mankind (not a particular section of it), we must at the same time point out emphatically that we of the West and of the twentieth century must work out our own salvation. This will not be achieved by sitting at the feet of Indian swamis who migrate our way or of Indian gurus in their own native ashrams. Such a course will not solve the heavy problems of the present-day West but will rather add to the chaos which peace has brought. The West will have to discover its own spiritual resources. They are there although mostly latent. If the world crisis and the war have turned more people towards mystical and metaphysical seeking, it would be an error on the part of most of them to limit this turning only to the Indian variety, a grave error with individual and social results. I say "most" because there is a small minority whose prenatal tendencies will allow them no satisfaction unless they become converts to some Indian cult or guru, whose mentality is entirely escapist, medieval, other-worldly, and self-centered. Therefore such people should follow their bent. But the others, who are the majority, will not benefit by such a course and neither will society. This point of view is not at variance with but is amply endorsed by the true esoteric wisdom of the ancient East, which unfortunately has been misunderstood narrowed and distorted by monkish minds and emotional fanatics.

It is a matter of simple observation that most Oriental peoples enjoy their religious festivals. Why can they not be left this little brightness in their otherwise drab existence? If they understand the spiritual meaning or historic significance of a festival, that is desirable, but even if not, why rob them of the enjoyment?

Both yoga and philosophy have been naturalized in other Asiatic lands and given the form of expression and application suited to the peoples of those lands. They have now made a small beginning to be naturalized in the Occident.

Any attempt to force Occidentals to wear garments unsuited to their character and their climate will be defective and deficient. This does not mean that for the sake of accommodating Western bias or error Truth is to be tampered with, reduced, or added to. The absolute Truth will never change, but the communication of it is always changing. It can be communicated in a way to suit twentieth-century circumstances and mentalities as they exist in Europe and America.

We are too civilized to sit on a bed of spikes, too active to squat a lifetime away in an ashram, too intellectual to accept mythological stories written for primitive tribes, and too aware of science's creative usefulness to be willing to condemn it outright as Satanic because it was not mentioned in these stories. Every form of spiritual escapism--whether a revived medieval European form or a dying modern Indian one--which evades these problems is merely a narcotic which dulls our intelligence.

I rejoice in the inspiring life and lofty teaching of Sri Ramakrishna. We are all the richer for his having lived. But then I also rejoice in the life and teaching of many others, of Plato, Saint Augustine, Meister Eckhart, Saint Teresa, Al Ghazzali, Kabir, and Emerson, to mention a mere few. If anyone asks me to become an exclusive follower of Ramakrishna's teaching and personality, to become a convert to the cult which has formed around his name, then I shall refuse with all my will. For I must find a way of thought and life appropriate to my own need, my own time and my own place.

Why should I waste my time and bore my readers with the discussion of problems which do not really concern and have no vital interest for contemporary Western man? He is not troubled by whether or not he should enter an ashram, become a monk, or be converted to Hinduism. There is neither use nor sense in whipping these dead horses. My pen must deal with live issues. The West is not interested in criticism of the East's obsolete mystical institutions, antiquated ascetic practices, and superstitious theological beliefs. All this is meaningless and irrelevant in the modern setting.

The tendency to imitate every detail of Indian mysticism's ways of thought and life can lead only to intellectual atrophy and spiritual stagnation.

I went to India several times in order to get finished with the predispositions picked up in the past lives in that area, although I did not know this at that time. At last I got cured and got into the new rhythm which is the coming wave. What India is fast losing, the West is acquiring. But our approach will be more scientific and less religious; it will become as neat and precise as the Buddha's statements. Moreover it will bring the ordinary life of the world into the quest and not part from it as an unholy thing. All this will be more apparent in the future, but it has begun.

The West must find its own dynamic inspiration, must follow a practicable teaching suited to its own thought and not inconsistent with the demands of reason, must evolve a modern technique that is not too far from common life to get itself practised.

There is wider general interest in these subtle Oriental ideas than ever before but there is not much evidence of wider general willingness to practise with fervour the goodwill, the forbearance, and the compassion without which those ideas are half-dead, bereft of their best values.

With the nineteenth century, but much more with the twentieth, the time had come to take these verities out of the far past and, to a large extent, out of the Far East. It is time to try to make them come alive for our own West, and honour them emotionally as well as intellectually.

Those who do not agree with our conclusions, who believe that only the East can save the West and that only a monastic abandonment of the world can save the individual, must be loyal to their own convictions and seek elsewhere. But the others who do see the force of our conclusions and who do seek a teaching which, modernized and rationalized though it be, does not lessen any of their devotional ardour, must seek it in philosophy.


Differences between East and West

The West thinks life is a ladder; the East knows it is a wheel. The West regards it as a climb, the East as a roundabout. The West sees a distant perfection towards which we progress and develop and evolve. The East sees that escape from the wheel can occur now or at any time. The West gives a beginning and so must give an end to the ladder. The East sees no beginning and no end in a circle.

It is admittedly difficult to comprehend the Orient, the ways, character, and habits of thought of its peoples. It is ten times more difficult to comprehend those enigmatic men, the mystics of the Orient.

The West has a more developed sense of time whereas the East has a more developed sense of space. This is why the Eastern world-view has been mainly quietistically static whereas the Western has been dynamically evolutionary.

A belief which the Occidental regards as odd, the Oriental may regard as unquestionable. Reincarnation is such a belief.

What an Oriental may think really beautiful, an Occidental may think merely grotesque.

Tantra has been greatly misunderstood in the West by those who have seized upon the merely physical aspect of it alone. Its highest and primary reference is not to men and women in their sexual body relationships. The aim of the higher Tantra is to bring the personal self and the Overself together in harmony balance and union. Then only is the full human being likely to be developed. Then only are all the miseries and troubles so often associated with sexual ignorance and sexual indiscipline likely to be overcome.

God is under everything, teaches the Hindu; God is Bliss, Man is God, the spiritual realization of life's goal is to be in this bliss. Yet the sceptic coming from the West and observing the half-starved and half-sick people around him, subject to Nature's terrors and Man's violence, hears this tall talk as a compensatory dream. Or are they being mocked, in their miseries, by this concept of God, if not by God himself?

What determines this large difference in outlook between the Indian and the British people? I am inclined to refer it all to a single cause: disparity of climate.

When one compares the grey prosaic Euro-American lands with the colourful Oriental ones, one sees the power of climate to mold men and their civilizations.

Europeans and Americans who have never travelled in the Orient can form but a faint conception of the overpowering beauty and startling clearness of the heavenly canopy which one beholds there. One obvious reason is that our skies are so frequently overcast by clouds that we see fewer stars, and them dimly.

Here in Europe the summer days die slowly into longer but less colourful evenings than those of the tropics.

How much more hygienic and beautiful than our Western handshake is the Chinese salute of folded arms and bowed head, or the Arab one of touched heart and forehead.

The Indians consider kissing between the two sexes immoral. The Japanese consider it obscene. But the Westerners consider it quite differently.

The refined class among Orientals once looked on Euramerican dance forms as near to obscenity and immorality, certainly as expressive of or stimulating to the sexual passions.

The custom of drinking water in which a guru's feet has been washed has often been regarded in the Orient as a holy act. We regard it as a dirty one.

Dr. Laurence J. Bendit said: "Not only are conditions in the West different, but the fabric of the personality, especially at the vital-etheric level, is of a different texture from that of the Indian. Such attempts at transplantation result in the person being neither one thing nor the other. . . . Yoga is suitable for Indian life and temperament."

Why is it that so many Orientals through so many centuries have showed in their religions and metaphysics a desire for being dissolved in the vast mass of life, being, and consciousness, where all personal identity vanishes--a desire which is so often to be found in their intellectual and religious history that it seems to amount to a kind of infatuation and obsession?

Many Orientals believe it is better not to have been born at all. The world is a delusion, they say, human life a misery, and its final destination--after a circling sequence of useless births and useless deaths--the utter cessation of being.

The pessimism which Orientals have produced in religion and literature can be accounted for in part by the enervation of a tropical climate and in part by the ennui of a too-ancient history; but there still remains a third part--insight into Life.

Hermann Hesse found more help in the Chinese way than in the Indian, because "in the West the atmosphere is not appropriate for yoga exercises which require solitude."

There are practices in this Eastern tradition which are almost unworkable in a modern Western background; there are ideals which are almost unattainable when applied in this same scene. Why, then, borrow and resuscitate them?

He does not, like members of some Oriental sects, need to gaze and meditate upon a decaying corpse to teach him the transiency of existence or the folly of lust. He prefers, and can find, wisdom through pleasanter ways.

The Greeks who, honouring reason and sanity as they did, witnessed, with Alexander Susa, an ascetic's voluntary ascent of a funeral pyre or, with Augustus in 20 b.c. at Athens, a monk's self-immolation in flame, got an impression of craziness mixed with their astonishment. Whether there is a touch of madness in this strange Indian nation, and particularly in its more religious section, is a question in some Western visitors' minds even today.

Most people have to engage in some work, some profession or some business, and only a lucky few escape it and have unlimited time at their disposal. To follow all the techniques and practise all the exercises laid down by some of these teachers is possible only for such a few, even if it were desirable, which it is not.

You cannot gauge the extent of a man's spirituality from the extent of his bank balance, as some modern cults (and the medieval Calvinists) believe. But neither can you gauge it from the extent of his poverty, as so many holy men of the Orient still believe. The cults should be reminded of Jesus' several warnings to the rich. The holy men should be reminded of Krishna's warnings about the futility of outward renunciations.

Those who say that cleanliness is next to godliness have either never had godly illumination or never been among some Oriental mystics.

The yogi would look sinister to the average Westerner, for his hair had cow dung on it, his face had ashes on it, and his stomach was shrivelled.

The Oriental is inclined to let well enough alone but the Occidental is not. He displays more initiative and energy.

Is any Western man happy with what he has got? Neither the Near Eastern prescription of being resigned to his lot nor the Far Eastern one of being contented with it seems to suit the European or American of today.

The great disparity between English and Indian outlooks in life is emphasized especially in the matter of work.

The prospect of losing all our individual capacities for life and passing into the obscurity of what an Indian Advaitic friend called "mass-consciousness" does not exactly thrill us. This Oriental eagerness to be deprived of all faculties in order to dissolve into non-existence is difficult to share, much less to copy.

When the Bhagavad Gita informs us that to the enlightened man a piece of gold and a lump of stone are the same because he is without desires and without aversions, we do not feel so eager for enlightenment. If this is the final reward of strenuous yoga, if this is the wisdom of the East, we are more inclined to stay at home than to go there in search of it. We must plead guilty not only to having our preferences but also to wanting to keep several of them. Then of what use is it to us in practical life to take on such an attitude of studied indifference, as if we were near death and bidding farewell to this world?

We Westerners do not care usually to accompany the Indian in his quest of immersion in a featureless, even faceless, Absolute Entity, where all personal history comes to an end and where sufferings cease only because there is no conscious being left to suffer. Even those who are attracted to Hinduism are, after all, and despite numerous publications, only a small minority and often regarded as freaks.

The Chinese and Indian civilizations are at least a thousand years older than the European.

The old attitude of the East towards intellectual inquiry was fitly phrased by a Turkish magistrate of last century, one Imam Ali Zade, to a friend of Sir Henry Layard, the archaeologist. Zade had listened patiently to a long dissertation about astronomy, and when it was over he calmly replied: "Seek not after the things which concern thee not. Thou hast spoken many words and there is no harm done, for the speaker is one and the listener is another. After the fashion of thy people thou hast wandered from one place to another until thou art happy and content in none. Listen, O my son. There is no wisdom equal unto the belief in God. He created the world, and shall we liken ourselves unto Him in seeking to penetrate into the mysteries of His creation? Shall we say, `Behold this star spinneth round that star, and this other star goeth and cometh in so many years'? Let it go. He from whose hand it came will guide and direct it. I praise God that I seek not that which I require not. Thou art learned in the things I care not for; and as for that which thou hast seen, I defile it. Wilt thou seek paradise with thine eyes?"

Such was the ancient Eastern attitude, now beginning to yield before the remorseless impact of facts, the resistless impact of Western ways, and the pressure of economic necessity. We of today will still reverence Deity and learn how to maintain that reverence while studying astronomy and increasing our knowledge in many ways. God and Reason will not cancel each other, but rather complement each other.

Oriental texts made certain assertions centuries ago, but they have to be taken on trust that the writers really knew what was claimed and did not merely believe so. Western modern texts are expected to offer the evidence if they offer revelations. Solid proof is demanded.

Is it too much to expect that a race shall one day arise which will unite the Eastern attitude of introspection with the Western spirit of observation?

As one probed beneath the surface of superimposed civilization, one began to realize that the Oriental naturally prefers indolence to activity, illiteracy to education, and only the force of economic need drives him to fight his tendencies, whereas the Occidental possesses a born instinct to be active and to know the "reason why" of things.

It is as hard for most Orientals not to believe as it is for most Occidentals not to doubt.

The finest minds of the Orient have loved abstract thinking, as the finest minds of the Occident have abhorred it. We in the practical West are not easily tempted to desert the tangibility of this world of bricks and timber for the airiness of the world of pure thought.

We in Euramerica are analytic and scientific by temperament when compared with Asiatics.

The West has brought a genius for thoroughness to the service of knowledge.

The Westerner's difficulty in reading the Upanishads is that he finds they exhibit no orderly system but rather reveal their philosophy in disjointed fragments.

There are dangers for our Western minds in Eastern philosophy. We have a tendency to get lost in its mazes and go round and round--no telling where we will come out.

The straightforward concrete and fact-regarding Western mind is sometimes no match for the subtle tortuous and fact-disregarding Eastern mind.

In reading the Oriental writings, we must beware of the high-flown language and the eulogistic metaphors.

Is the East profound and mysterious or is it silly and childish? The answer is that a few Orientals are the former and perhaps most are the latter. But the average European is unable to distinguish between them.

"An Indian does not think--at least not in the same way as we do. He perceives a thought. It comes to him," said Jung. It would be interesting to inquire in what way does the thought come to him.

We Westerners say that there are two sides of every matter and hence two ways of looking at it. But the Indian Jains say there are seven different ways of looking at it.

I never needed to throw a bridge across the racial gulf, for there was something in my Western nature which yet understood the Eastern mind without much difficulty.


Decline of traditional East

The ever-gentle and ever-calm face of the Buddha is hardly today a symbol of Asia's soul. There is too much agitation, even violence, too much materialism, to justify such an assertion.

God's will varies from one historical period to another. What was right two thousand years ago may not be right today. The Hindus, for instance, do not understand this and vainly try to follow a teaching given five thousand years ago under wholly different conditions. The result is the deplorable state of India today.

Because I still regard it as a tremendous contribution to world thought, I dislike having to write these things about Oriental, especially Indian, culture. Yet the criticism is needed if balance is to be kept.

Now twenty years have nearly passed and this note reappears in my hand. It must be given more force, for the Dalai Lama of Tibet was expressing the same idea to me. His harsh experiences over the years have illuminated its truth.

The psychic chaos which one observes everywhere in the Orient today is the result of man's essential need to balance himself, for it is the result of being infected by the West with yearnings to develop the earthly side of his life.

I saw many yogis, sannyasins, and holy men, and my belief that they represent a remote past which is receding forever became strengthened. They have no experience of the difficulties which face the average Westerner when he tries to take up a spiritual way of living or a method of meditation, nor could they form any accurate conception of them. They lost their influence in India upon the educated classes and have become a refuge for the lazy, both mentally and physically. The few exceptions were men of sterling worth but they represent a small fraction of the total. The mass of holy men has become so degenerate in character that in quite a number of places the word "sadhu" has become a synonym for a "vagabond."

India is no more spiritual than Hollywood, nor is research among a lot of half-lunatics called esoterics or swamis more spiritual than acting in a studio.

The old Orient with its piety and beggary, its sleepiness and fanaticism, has been dissolving before our eyes.

The time when idealized pictures of Oriental spirituality were naïvely formed and wonderingly accepted has gone, with the rapid going of Oriental traditional life.

A notion has been sedulously spread by these swamis and accepted by their credulous followers, that the western half of the planet is a materialistic one whereas the eastern half is a spiritual one. The fallacy here is a simple one. The outstanding material progress made by the West during the past century and a half is mistaken for a denial of all spiritual values. The merely hereditary and often quite hollow formal attachment to religious dogma and custom in the East is mistaken for an acceptance of those values.

This geographical conception of spiritual truth, which places the centre of light in Asia and the centre of darkness in the rest of the world, had some value in the past centuries, but it is of dubious value in our own.

The deepest human thoughts have been recorded in texts whose authors lived in Asia. The purest religious feelings have been recorded in hymns composed in Asia. But that continent is now living too much on such past glories. The Occident is finding little by little its own inspiration in these areas.

Not so much from the Asia of today as from the Asia of the past can we learn about the higher purposes of life.

All this happened a very long time ago. Life moves on. Humanity is concerned, urgently and forcibly, with the present. It must ask, "What contribution can a country make today?"--not, "What contribution did it make 5,000 years ago?" The answer will hardly be a satisfactory one.

It was Dr. Yin, a professor of biology in a Chinese university, who told a friend of mine at Cambridge, while he was visiting there, that the West would be wise to learn more of the spiritual philosophy of the East before the East loses it altogether.

The more we perceive how low Egypt had fallen in those latter days of her long history, when the ruthless Romans took her, the more we appreciate her past grandeur. And the more we witness the spectacle of modern India enslaved by sanctified superstitions, the more we may value the higher philosophy which is uncovered when we burrow into her venerable history.

It is inevitable and unavoidable that the masses should come into power wherever they previously lacked it. This is the fate of today's world. This explains both the recent and the impending history of Asia in particular. And if Asiatics are becoming more materialistic and less spiritually minded than they formerly were, this is the driving impulse which is responsible. For in their blind groping to gain this power, they are turning aside from whatever impedes--or seems to impede--them, and hence from religion.

What would the masses of Asia have done in the past, before Communism came into existence, when so many of them lived with undernourished bodies, when poverty was plentiful and food was scarce--what would they have done without the hope and comfort or consolation which religion gave them? In prayer to their gods and saints, in a quest for material boons, in ritualistic priestly services they at least found some hope for a future benefit. Thus their religion was not purely spiritual but was also largely materialistic and had to be so. Need we wonder that with the coming of Communism that side of it was swept away and they were given the new notion that by their own effort, without dependence on any gods, they could improve their condition?

Those who sneer at Western materialism and fondly imagine that it is going to be superseded by Eastern spirituality had better get themselves acquainted with the facts first. There is plenty of materialism in Asia, only it takes a different form. It is evidenced in religious hypocrisies, for instance, in barbarous customs sanctioned and sanctified by the priests. And there is plenty of spirituality in Europe, if you know how to look for it. Here it appears as organized charity for the sick and poor, and as pity for suffering animals.

There is a religious materialism which deceives itself and others, and those Indians who prattle automatically about Western materialism ought to enquire whether they themselves have not fallen into this trap.

I have travelled in Asia, have seen great changes moving across the face of the Near, Middle, and Far East. And I have seen too how eagerly Asia is applying what it has learned from the West, how it seeks to become industrialized, organized, and wealthy. But in doing so it is forgetting its ancient mysticism, its protective religion.

Any large Asiatic city will show today how far and how fast the modern ways, which means the Western ways, are replacing the old romantic and picturesque ones inherited from tradition. The Oriental mind is being affected by Western ideas and accomplishments. Let enough years of this modifying process go by and the intense religiosity or spirituality of this mind will be reduced, as the medieval European spirituality was reduced by the onset of sceptical science and mechanized industry.

The mixture of the highest sense and the absurdest superstition which I found fifty years ago in many Oriental circles is being countered today by a scientific education, but in the result the wisdom vanishes with the superstition!

We may admire or love these twin products of Indian soil--Hinduism and Buddhism--but a dispassionate unprejudiced evaluation will force the admission that their greatest periods belong to the past, that under the impact of modern strains and pressures they will continue to decline, despite momentary or local spurts. What is true of them is true also of the other famous religions--Islam and Christianity and Judaism.

The villager who went, when he was ill, to a fakir to exorcise the evil spirit, the townsman who proceeded to the temple priest to purchase a cure from God--how long can they withstand the impact of modern knowledge? The answer is provided by the meteoric leap of Asia from medievalism to the mind of the twentieth century. The department of theology at the University of Istanbul, for instance, is dying for lack of students.

It is true that Asia has been the profoundest fountainhead of such teachings, but it must be remembered that the whole world is undergoing change and this includes Asia, that what was is not necessarily what is going to be in the future, that we in the West may become not only the heirs to what Asia possesses, but also the pioneers with revelations and knowledge of our own.

It has been asked whether psychology in the West and yoga in the East are moving towards the same point, though from different poles. The truth is that yoga as a science is not moving in India but remains stagnating in much the same condition in which it has been for hundreds of years. Western psychology on the other hand is definitely on the move towards the discovery of the spiritual nature of man, but it is, unfortunately, still too materialistic.

We do not agree with the late Abdul Baha, the Persian Baha'i prophet, when he expressed the belief that "the day is approaching when the West will have replaced the East in radiating the light of Divine Guidance." But neither do we agree with the swami missionaries when they express the belief that the day is approaching when the West will look for illumination solely to India. The new spiritual impulse will not go out to the rest of mankind from India, despite what these swamis say, although it will unquestionably be indebted to India for some of its inheritance. Having travelled this wide globe, I dare to affirm that it will proceed from a continent and people where it is least expected. But once it is manifested, history will show that the European people are going to be more responsive to this truth than any other people on earth. For Asia is the victim of her own decaying past, America of her own fascination for mechanical civilization, but Europe, as a victim of her own internal conflicts, seeks solace in her suffering.

It was a widely travelled, well-educated, but deeply spiritual Indian who said to me, because he was free from narrow religious sectarianism, that "India is a dying land." Once noted for its intense religious faith, India exists now more outwardly than inwardly and the depths of human search for the highest Truth are being covered up. This search is passing over to the Western countries.

The importunate beggars who greet the tourist and the traveller in modern India as they did in medieval India, covered as they are with sores and dressed in rags, are a symbol of this dying land that my friend spoke of, despite the industrial efforts which are being made under the pressures of the new materialism.

Is it not a striking phenomenon, confirming the prediction of the West bringing spiritual tuition to the East, that the largest yoga ashram in all India, with more than a thousand disciples, was headed by a Westerner! The Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry had a Frenchwoman, Mira, popularly called "The Mother," as its administrator and guru. And the largest yoga monastery of the Jain religion, situated at Mount Abu in Rajputana, had a European, a Swiss popularly known as "George," as its guru.

The search for spiritual identity has increased in the West, decreased in the East.

Here in Asia the oldest surviving cultures of the world are fighting their final battles; here the most mysterious and most uncomprehended ideas have held sway, of which the occultism of the West is but a misty reflection.

The need of the Orient, besieged from without and assailed from within, to keep its own spiritual identity has become a desperate one.

All over the Asiatic world there is a restlessness which the old religions cannot appease.

Those who are appalled at the sight of the cracking foundations of civilization, the turmoil and cares and disturbances of our time, may sometimes turn in their despair to the thought that surrender to an Oriental mystical cult will alone save humanity. But let them go into the Orient itself and travel extensively and observe penetratingly. Then they will discover that the Orient is itself in need of salvation, is itself threatened by the same doom which threatens the Occident.

The older Orientals and the sentimental Occidentals may not like the fact, but there it is staring every globe-trotter in the face--the civilization of the West is fast becoming the civilization of the world. Go where you will, from the drab vast plains of China to the muddy banks of the falling Nile, you will see this truth exemplified. Indians who represent themselves to be the advance guard of our time are really in the rear of their age. They have no eyes for the winnings which applied science has gathered together; they do not hesitate to denounce the indubitable benefits of modern civilization, though they are always ready to use them. They affect to be pioneers of a simpler age, when they are nothing more than the late camp-followers of the present one. Their attempts to expound a "higher" mode of living are less instructive than amusing.

The Orient cannot save the Occident for it needs first to save itself. To arrive at this conclusion was a great change in my beliefs and therefore one made very slowly.


Reciprocal West-East impact

Instead of thinking of the terms East and West as opposites, we would do better to think of them as they recently were--that is, medieval and modern. For in the pre-Renaissance and pre-scientific eras we Westerners were not much different from the Easterners; indeed, the similarities are startling in covering so many small details. But the East is rapidly changing. It is moving along the same path which we took, only with the advantage of our own finished development to guide it, to warn it, and to quicken it.

The modernization of Asiatic culture has begun. It will move along much faster than did the modernization of American culture. For it starts with the great advantage of benefiting immediately by our latest knowledge, a knowledge into which we ourselves had slowly to grow.

Western inventions and Western ideas have taken permanent root in India; the modern incursion is too emphatic to be denied or opposed. Is it not better, then, to adopt a balanced sensible view, to cling to the past only where it is worthwhile, and to desert outworn fanatical or uneconomical ways? All that is true and useful in European and American ideas and goods should be made freely available for the proper service of Indians. It is only in such ready commingling, both here and in the West itself, that both will benefit, both will become reconciled despite external differences, and both will be ultimately perfected. India can and should keep all that is best in her cultural inheritance, yet she can also imitate the West in wise restrained material development, in the swift use of new inventions. Thus posterity will be made to prove that the adventurous English did not enter India without a higher purpose than they were conscious of.

It is a far cry from the tutelary deities of Asiatic temples to the pneumatic rivetters of American workshops. But the thin brown Oriental is somehow making the leap.

There was a time when those who were outside the fold of Hindu religion were despised by the Hindus, just as in another part of Asia the Chinese despised as barbarians those who were outside the Chinese empire. Only when the Westerners with their technical skills and scientific knowledge were able to achieve what the Hindus and Chinese could not achieve and put them to shame did they really begin to wake up. Since that time we have witnessed the spectacle of both these peoples falling over each other to learn from the West--from the barbarians--and to copy and to imitate them.

The sleepy indolence of the Orient was a product of climate, religion, and other factors but it could not withstand the impact of modern energies.

India needed, and needs, the efficiency, hygiene, and honest administration which the West can give it.

Educated Bombay and Calcutta have largely become intellectual suburbs of London and New York officially, and of Moscow unofficially.

There is enough room in life for both religion and science, thought and action, tradition and innovation: let the young people of Asia remember that. Let them not, in their commendable effort to force the pace of their countries' progress, throw away whatever really is worthwhile in the heritage that has descended to them out of the past. A civilization could be produced by them that would be happier and safer than those of Europe. Let them spur ahead by all means to build up industries, to apply science and foster sanitation; let them seek prosperity; but they should never forget those eternal truths of the spiritual life which must form the foundation of all genuine civilization. If a few outstanding leaders could be produced who combined within themselves the intense spirituality of great yogis with the intense ambitious activity of great businessmen, Asia could be quickly led up out of poverty into prosperity, stagnation into achievement, superstition into truth, and lethargy into life. It is for the young to think this over and, in setting to work, to rebuild themselves as well.

The Orient I knew is passing quickly, and with that her wise men, her seers and sages. The youth of both Orient and Occident now dance to the same pop music, share the same violent feelings, the same immature ideas. Yet I have no nostalgia for the vanishing half of the world, for it had its miseries and evils too. It was no Paradise.

The bittersweet savour of life in the body, its joy mingled with suffering, its great moments marred by their shortness, is well understood by the older thinkers and mystics of the East but less by their younger descendants of today.

Graceful high-necked jugs made in a traditional and beautiful pattern, are much less seen nowadays. Functional but graceless plain metal jugs, brought in, or imitated from, the West are replacing them.

The notion of dumb Asiatic masses bowing their heads unresistingly before ordained destined happenings is getting a bit out of date.

Those missionaries and proselytizers who come to Oriental lands to bring them religious supports would see, if they were not completely self-centered, that the people of these lands are already well provided with them. Despite that, it is a good thing that free choice is thus made more widely available.

It is not possible for either Indians, whose minds are obscured by slavish acceptance of dead traditions, or Englishmen, whose superior minds are membraned by superior detachment from the inner life of a totally alien race, to arrive at a loose estimate of the value of those forces which are working so powerfully within India's life today.

It is highly significant that the scientific Western point of view is growing in the Orient and the mystical Eastern point of view is growing in the Occident. And this is happening despite all obstacles and oppositions.

Just as crossbreeding sometimes produces a superior strain of animal or human, so it may be that the crossbreeding of cultures--of the West and the East, of Europe, America, and Asia--may produce a revaluation of material things and of goals, life-goals, a fuller conception of religion and a subtler one of philosophy. After all, something like this happened in the Greek Renaissance and in the Italian Renaissance.

There is no need to go to extremes to use the Western way of thought to supplant the Oriental or the Oriental to supplant the Western. Let them both supplement each other.

It is a striking dispensation of Providence which threw the fortunes of the two peoples of India and England together.

The white man regarded Asia as his lawful loot, his God-sent dominion, and he regarded Asiatics as ignorant heathens. His formidable guns, his technical equipment in warfare, frightened the Asiatics and they yielded easily. But the wheel turned. The little Japanese tutored by Western masters humiliated the Russian bear. The little Indians led by Gandhi disconcerted and shamed the English lion into giving them their freedom. The white man feels once backward but now awakening Asia slipping through his fingers, his prestige going with it, and he knows there is little he can do about it. The forces of Nature were bringing the white, the yellow, and the brown peoples together that they might affect each other and contribute to each other's wider and fuller development. The avoidance of contact was thus not possible. It was Japan's mistake in trying to shut herself up as a hermit kingdom in the nineteenth century, as it was Tibet's mistake to do the same in the twentieth century. If one thing is clear, it is that a brusquely awakened Asia refuses to drift helplessly but intends energetically to give a positive direction to its fate and fortune.

The Western intellectuals who consider the offering of Eastern mysticism are a little bewildered about it because they are not so sure of themselves after their wartime experiences. The Eastern intellectuals who have "gone Western" are quite sure that their own mysticism is a survival of a superstitious past. The philosopher can afford to smile at this situation, for he alone understands the full truth about it, as he alone predicted its arisal long ago.

Asia and Europe have met and become acquainted. As a result, the intellectual, political, and social ideas of the West are being taken up by the East, which hopes to find in them welcome liberation from the cramped and unprogressive existence which has been its past lot.

What will ultimately issue forth from the intercourse of India and the West is not readily shown forth at present. May one hope that the best of both will join in mutual assimilation?

If the Orient gave us meditation and we gave it sanitation it would be a profitable exchange.

Sir S. Radhakrishnan, Vice President of the Indian Republic and honoured expounder of Indian philosophy, has humbly said that "there is much we have to learn from the peoples of the West and there is also a little which the West may learn from us." My own travel and observation in both hemispheres lead to a less humble conclusion. What each has to learn from the other is about equal.


Parallels between East and West

The medieval European monk with his tonsured head and dark brown gown is the parallel of the Indian ascetic with his long hair and reddish-yellow robe.

The ancient mysticism of India is co-operant with the mysticism of medieval Europe in forwarding these same truths.

We in the West have our own prophets who can match with the East for amiable foolishness. In both hemispheres the prophets are usually linked up with a tale of marvels.

It is quite inaccurate to talk of the ascetic-minded East as against the sensual-minded West. In the matter of sexual passion, let me say bluntly that the inhabitants of Egypt, of Arabia, of Persia, of India, and of China do not lag one whit behind the inhabitants of any European or American land I have known. How else explain the forty million population rise in India alone from census to census?

The would-be holy man who squats on a piece of rug in his forest hut is not so remote as it may seem from his modern counterpart who sits on a foam-rubber-filled cushion in his contemporary-styled apartment.

The sword suspended by a hair over Damocles' head at a banquet in ancient Syracuse was intended to demonstrate and symbolize how precarious was the happiness of those seated there. Prince Gautama was carefully sheltered by his parents from the sights of human suffering. So when, in his twenties, he saw for the first time a sick man, a dead man, and a decrepit old man, he was filled with horror and renounced the world of royal luxury to become a monk. Unhappy and searching for peace of mind, he wandered through Northern India. From Syracuse to Benares is a long distance, but we see that from Greek speculation on the value of human existence to Indian reflection upon it is quite a short one.

The Existentialist attitude existed in the West before the war but did not get any acceptance until the horrors of war made men think of the darker side of human existence. Long before Sartre, it could be found in the writings of the Dane Kierkegaard, the German Heidegger, and the Frenchman de Senancourt. But longer still before these men put it forward, Gautama the Buddha did the same. And, whereas Sartre distorted and exaggerated his facts, Gautama dealt with them in a juster and more positive manner. And the condition of nothingness to which Sartre aspired was metaphysically different from the Buddha's Nirvana.

Lao Tzu's teaching, like Socrates', rejects authority; but Confucius', like Plato's, reveres it. Each attitude has its correctness, depending upon historical or local circumstances; but for most individuals an equilibrium between them seems best.

It is not only the Hindus who believe that the mere sight of a saint or the close neighbourhood of a holy man may give a spiritual uplift or communicate a blessing. Catholic Christians have a somewhat similar belief.

At least in the Catholic Church most members of monastic orders are engaged in some form of activity, generally of service, like educating the young or nursing the sick. It is only the minority who join the purely contemplative orders. In India, it is the other way around. The orders devoted to external service have fewer members, much fewer, than those devoted to meditation.

The medieval English anchorite who took the vow of "constancy of abode," who could not even change his cell without permission from the pope, whose door was locked from outside or even sealed by the bishop, occasionally had even a counterpart to the Tibetan bricked-in lama by having the cell door built up. At the opposite extreme was the wandering friar, England's and Europe's equivalent to India's wandering sadhu.


Universality of truth

The Truth cannot be Hinduized and made sectarian or Westernized and made geographical. It is what it was, is, and shall be--universal and eternal.

The spiritual life is a universal possession, not a continental one.

Why set geographical boundaries to the voice of truth? If it is to be heard there, in Asia, it must also be heard here, or it is not truth. Why make it a local affair? How much wiser the Biblical Psalm which challengingly proclaims: "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?" or, "Whither shall I flee from thy presence?"

Kailas shares with Arunachala the distinction of being the holiest height in all Asia. Buddhist and Hindu worship it, yet no Buddhist, no Hindu, is my Kailas. It is not so narrow as that. It is for all mankind, just as the great souls whose spirits inhabiting it are not so localized as to give their efforts to Asia alone; they too give themselves for the world.

Why limit the finding of truth to a single country, like India or Palestine, or to a single century, like the first? For it can be revealed anywhere, at any time.

Truth today is not in the ownership of the Orient alone, and if certain traditions which have been recounted to me are correct, then it never was, although it unquestionably mostly was.

If a man wears a jacket, waistcoat, and trousers, and if his shirt is fitted with collar and tie--all instead of a flowing cotton robe--will he be any the less a sage if his consciousness is established in enlightenment?

If a man finds the truth he does not find it labelled "Indian truth" or "European truth."

The soul of man incarnates all over the face of this planet, and the same man will now take the East in his stride and now the West. No custom-house frontier can make the ancient traveller to Truth halt on his high journey and take a different direction. No Western birth will exempt him from following the same path which the Eastern seeker must walk--the subdual of self, the subjugation of thought, and a kindled yearning for his infinite Home.

In the world of the Overself there is no antithesis of Orient and Occident, no duality of Eastern and Western ways leading to it. Such opposite concepts are man's own creations--for all men, everywhere, are in the end forced by the higher laws to unfold their same latent qualities, capacities, and faculties.

More than sixty years' study and experiences tell and teach me that the Western seeker finds in himself what the Oriental also finds, if both search deeply enough.

If you listen to the propagandist Theosophists, they will tell you that Tibet is the spiritual headquarters of the Universe. If you listen to the missionary swamis, they will tell you that India is the spiritual centre of the Universe. My experience has shown me that Tibet is only the spiritual headquarters of Tibet and that India is only the spiritual centre of India. The source to which we almost instinctively turn when we are in quest of spiritual light must no longer be sought outside ourselves. It must be sought within our own heart.

Nobility is inherent in individuals rather than in nations. Such individuals are born anywhere and everywhere. There is no spiritual East and no materialistic West. There are only individual Easterners and Westerners who happen to be spiritual.

The eclectic study of religion mysticism and philosophy, taking parts from or outlines of varied systems in the East and the West, in the past and the present, thus drawing upon the highest historic culture of the whole human race, has merits which a narrow study, limited to a single system, can never equal.

A properly cultured person will one day come to mean not only a trained thinker, but also an informed one--not only informed about the ancient medieval and modern European classics but also about the Near, the Middle, and the Far Eastern ones.

What is the use of denigrating ancient knowledge and beliefs, customs and traditions as these are expressed in ways of life, in forms of religion, and in teachings of philosophies, merely because they are ancient? And what also is the use of praising the modern alone, especially because it is newer, more scientific, bolder, and freer?

Basically, the human organism is not widely different in one part of the world from what it is in another part. The Indian and the European are both controlled by the same laws of nature.

It is true that we are not living in the age of Shankara and Chuang Tzu. But it is also true that human beings still possess the same instincts, the same appetites, and the same desires which they did then.

Human conditions have changed immensely but human nature remains essentially the same in spite of this.

Those whose talk or writing glibly opposes the Easterner and the Westerner as two fundamentally different persons, forget that the basic needs of a human being still remain the same despite all changes of latitude and longitude. It is absurd to make the one spiritual and the other not.

Against Kipling's famous but false couplet, I would match the wise statement of Goethe: "Orient und Okzident sind nicht mehr zu trennen." ("The East and West are no longer to be separated.")


East-West synthesis

I love the Orient. I always feel at home in it, and in almost any part of it. But I have not given it my sole allegiance. That belongs to Truth. I try to integrate the best of both the Oriental and Occidental ways of life and thought. I refuse to make a wholesale surrender to one or the other; indeed I could not, for the defects of both are too plainly visible.

We need a communion of what is best in Orient and Occident, a combination of antique mystic detachment and modern rational practicality, which it should be the business of the coming faith to advocate.

When the scientific wisdom of the West unites with the mystic wisdom of the East, we shall arrive at truth.

Since those far-off days when Sir William Jones brought the Sanskrit language to the notice of the savants of Europe, a stream of sparkling Indian thought has been flowing into the pool of Western philosophy. Schopenhauer, with prophetic penetration, perceived this coming change and wrote: "The `Gnana' of the Hindu is equivalent to the `Gnosis' of the Greek philosopher; both mean `knowledge' in its highest and truest sense. Ah, if we could unite Oriental insight, thought-depth, with Occidental energy, practicality, and capability."

Only by working out a combination of these alternative world outlooks--the Oriental and the Occidental, the ancient and the modern--can we arrive at a better balanced and fuller result.

Truth is not bounded by geography, but its expression on earth, its manifestation among men, is. Can the tide of Asia's wisdom flow westwards, so that nations like the English and the Americans, with their thoroughness and energy, will take up the old truths and utilize them for the rebuilding of their societies? But for that teachers are required.

It is no longer only an affair of bringing Hellenism and Hebraism to terms, as it was in Matthew Arnold's day; to these must now be added the whole Asiatic culture from Hindustan to Japan.

In philosophy both West and East meet harmoniously on the higher cultural levels at last.

Let us be happy to owe what we can to Asia, to benefit by the historical fact of her existence, but let us not become submerged in any racial thought nor confined to any hemispheral attitudes. Nothing less than a totally universal, freely sought, and quite unfettered wisdom ought to be our goal.

Whether it will come about through an Orientalized West or whether through a Westernized Orient, a universal attitude toward truth is the only ultimate one.

The present day needs not only a synthesis of Oriental and Occidental ideas, but also a new creative universal outlook that will transcend both. A world civilization will one day come into being through inward propulsion and outward compulsion. And it will be integral; it will engage all sides of human development, not merely one side as hitherto.

It is no longer enough to be merely Western in standpoint. But this is not to say that we must consequently swing to the opposite extreme and adopt an Indian one, as some of those who have been unable to satisfy their spiritual needs in Christianity aver. On the contrary, the truth is to be regarded from a universalist standpoint, for this is the only correct one. If it be sought as being merely Indian, its Occidental seekers will go astray. This is so not only because their needs and their situation are exceptional, but also because a dozen different traditional conceptions of truth now befog the Indian scene and bewilder the Indian seekers themselves.

The Asiatic wisdom must become subject to scientific investigation or perish.

The Eastern knowledge of spiritual matters and the Western knowledge of science are really two parts which should be put together to make the whole diagram, the whole pattern. Both were deficient while this was not done.

Giving the old teachings a scientific foundation will enable many more people to enter the door hitherto closed to them.

The intellectual and scientific advances of the modern world call for a satisfying formulation of mystical experience which shall at least not show ignorance of their achievement nor be inferior to their own formulations.

When the Western practicality has become permeated by the ancient Eastern contemplativeness, and when Eastern civilization is rebuilt by Western initiative, the whole of mankind will come to healing. Reverie is not enough. Dream and do. Let the buds of high thought burst into the flowers of heroic action. In the present chaotic and critical state of the world, it is better for those with spiritual ideals to throw their weight into positive service of humanity. We must do something to objectify these ideals.

The smallness of outlook which suited medieval times does not suit modern times. The difficulties of communication have disappeared. No truly modern culture is complete which fails to include specific reference to Oriental ethics, teaching, religion, and philosophy. Nor is there any real hope for better understanding and, consequently, more peace between East and West until there is more sympathetic knowledge of each other on this higher level. It is not too much to say that whereas such a meeting in the inner life holds a promise of world peace, the lack of it is a threat to world peace.

The wisdom which is to come will have to be the collective modern achievement of all mankind, rather than the antiquated achievement of those who lived thousands of years ago on a single continent. And it will be arrived at through a twofold process which will shun neither the extrospective methods of the Occident nor the introspective methods of the Orient, but will combine both. The forces of natural development are driving mankind towards this consummation and it would be better if he became conscious of the trend instead of blindly resisting it.

We need to carry something of the Oriental brain under our Occidental skulls, to seek for a kind of synthesis between the seething activities of the West and the dusty quietism of the East, to accept and use the advantages of modern technical civilization whilst avoiding the evils that come with it. We need the dynamic power of the Occident but must mingle with it something of the introspective qualities of the Orient. Such a combination of ideals would lead to a full and truly human life. We must be pioneers of a new and wiser age which would bring together the best elements of Asian thought with Euro-American practicality in happy marriage. This would not only bring us contentment, not only restore inner peace and outer prosperity, but also put the larger nations on the path to true greatness.

If the Oriental way of thought and life and domestic style, or religion and philosophy, is to continue to spread, we may well expect the year 2000 to materialize the East-West synthesis which modern sages advocate and which modern seers predict--unless a world war breaks out and prevents all culture from spreading.



The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.